Defendants Themselves Give
DISPUTE OVER A DOOR LOCK
Both sides in the case of Isaac Harris and Max Blanck, owners of the Triangle Waist Company, where 147 persons lost their lives in a fire on March 25 last, closed yesterday before Judge Crain in General Sessions after Blanck had testified and several witnesses had been called in rebuttal by Assistant District Attorney Charles F. Bostwick.
The cross-examination of Harris took only short time, and then Herman Hurwitz, a locksmith, testified that the lock on the Washington Place door, which is now in evidence, could not have been on the door at the time of the fire. He said that he had reached this conclusion after examining the door and lock and finding that the lock was much too thick for the door. In reply to a question from Max D. Steuer, counsel for the two defendants, Hurwitz said:
"The piece of wood is just five-eighths of an inch narrower than it would have been if it had formed a piece of the door to which it was attached. It is also a fact that the spindle of the lock was a bit melted, and if this is true, as we see, then the same amount of heat would have melted the face of the lock also."The witness then opened the lock marked "Exhibit 30" with a nail file, and Assistant District Attorney Bostwick launched into the cross-examination of the witnesses, whose testimony remained unshaken.
Blanck on the Stand.
Blanck was then called. After identifying the machines and chairs in the courtroom as similar to those used in his shop, he said he was in charge of the selling end of the business and frequently had occasion to go from one floor to another. He said he never had a key to any door.
"I used the Washington Place door several times daily," he said.
"Was there any rule in your factory that the door on the Washington Place side should be locked before the employes left the shop?" asked Mr. Steuer.
"No, there was no such rule. I was in the shipping room when I heard of the fire. First I heard a man say 'The taxi has come.' My two children were in the shop. My wife had gone South, and I intended to take them shopping. I had forgotten about them until I heard that the taxi had come.
"As I was going back to the office to get the children some one said there was a little fire down on the eighth floor. I got the children and ran to the elevator on the Washington Place side. All the pressers were crowding around there. One of my little girls got into the elevator with the crowd, but I pulled her back again and told the man to come back as soon as he could.
"I waited for a while, but the elevator didn't come back, and I took the children and went to the Washington Place door. I opened it and saw that the stairs were full of fire and smoke. I came back into the loft and shut the door behind me. I heard Harris shouting 'To the roof, to the roof,' and we ran up there. A man carried one of my little girls for me."
All the time that Blanck was testifying Harris kept his face covered with his hands.
Question of the Doors.
Under cross-examination by Mr. Bostwick the witness denied that egress by the Washington Place door was shut off so that the girls would have to pass the watchmen who were posted only at the Greene Street door. He said that the girls could go out as they pleased, that forewomen and bookkeepers were detailed on each floor to watch those who preferred not to use the Greene Street door.
"You admit," said Mr. Bostwick, "that there was no watchman at the Washington Place door; would not that lead one to believe it reasonable that the door was locked?"
"There was no such a thing as a locked door on the premises."
Mr. Bostwick then questioned Blanck about a statement which he made voluntarily three days after the fire to the District Attorney. In it he said that he tried the doors.
Blanck was the last witness for the defense, although Mr. Bostwick reserved the right to recall Hurwitz, the locksmith, whom the defense produced as an expert.
In rebuttal Francis J. Kelly of the Reading Lock Company, whose locks were used in the building, was recalled. He was a witness several days ago. He contradicted Hurwitz on some points, saying that the tumblers in his locks were made of cold rolled steel, and would not be affected by the heat so readily as would the case and face of the lock or the door knobs which were made of bronze. He was asked by both Mr. Bostwick and Mr. Steuer if he could remove the knob and spindle, the latter having been partly melted from the lock. He answered that he could not. At Mr. Steuer's suggestion he tried it with a screwdriver, but it did not move.
"It must have been melted in there," said Mr. Kelly. "I can't get it out."
Knob Quickly Removed.
"It could have been removed and replaced thousands of times since the fire of March 25; donít you think so, speaking as an expert, Mr. Kelly?" asked Mr. Steuer. Mr. Kelly said it evidently could have been.
In reply to Mr. Bostwick's questions the witness said that if the door was open the fire would have had a much better chance at the lock than it would have had with the door shut.
Robert Wolfson, who had worked for Harris & Blanck for the last eight or nine years and was their bead cutter at the time of the fire was the next witness called in rebuttal. He testified that after the fire Harris said to him: "The dead ones are dead and will be buried. The live ones are alive and they will have to live. Sure the doors were locked; I wouldn't let them rob my fortune."
Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont and Mme. Nordica were in court most of the afternoon and listened with interest to the testimony.
Mrs. Belmont said she thought that they had better laws in England, and that justice was better administered there. Mme. Nordica agreed with her.
Court will convene to-day at 9:30. Each side will have two hours
to sum up, and Judge Crain expects to charge the jury before taking recess.
Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Trial Homepage